NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis


September 16, 2009

School safety will likely be a top concern of families living in Washington, D.C., say David Muhlhausen and Dan Lips, both with the Heritage Foundation, and Don Soifer of the Lexington Institute.

In 2009, the U.S. Department of Education reported that 11.3 percent of Washington, D.C., high school students reported being "threatened or injured" with a weapon while on school property during the previous year -- a rate well above the national average.   The researchers analyzed 911 calls originating from schools in the District for the 2007-2008 school year, the most recent full school year for which data were available.  They found:

  • In D.C. public schools, there were 912 incidences of violent crime, 1,338 incidences of property crimes and 1,250 other incidences.
  • In D.C. charter schools, there were 17 incidences of violent crime, 28 incidences of property crimes and 37 other incidences.
  • In D.C. private schools, there were 28 incidences of violent crime, 131 incidences of property crimes and 73 other incidences.

The data shows that the police department responded to many fewer calls at charter and private schools.  However, the authors warn that the information should be interpreted with caution, and that readers should be careful to understand the differences among public, charter and private schools when drawing comparisons.

District parents have improved the ability of their children to attend safe schools through the federal D.C. Opportunity Scholarship Program.  Established in the year 2004, the program provides scholarships worth up to $7,500 for private school tuition to qualifying students.   According to the researchers, Congress and the Obama Administration have taken several steps that threaten to end the program:

  • The U.S. Department of Education sent a letter notifying the families of 216 students who had recently been admitted to the scholarship program that their children would no longer be eligible for scholarships.
  • The department's decision to withdraw these scholarships forced these low-income families to find new schools for their children for the upcoming school year.
  • Many will likely have no choice but to attend the assigned public schools in their neighborhoods.

The Heritage Foundation obtained a list of the 70 public schools to which these students have been assigned since the Department of Education withdrew their Opportunity Scholarships.  Overall, these 70 schools for the 2007-2008 school year had many reported incidents of violence and crime.

Source: David B. Muhlhausen, Don Soifer and Dan Lips," School Safety in Washington, D.C.: New Data For The 2007-2008 School Year," Heritage Foundation, September 10, 2009.


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